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Boken Niklas Rådström, Boken (The Book)

Albert Bonniers förlag,  2013.

Reviewed by Anna Paterson in SBR 2014:1

Review Section: Fiction, Light-Hearted and More Serious

The Bible is a literary honeypot, an  inspiration for many if also a trap for  some. Niklas Rådström was inspired  enough to take on the task of re-scripting  Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelations. 

Was he trapped in a hubristic fantasy?  Early on, Rådström himself seemed to  think so, but ever since his five-hourlong dramatisation of the Bible played  to enthusiastic audiences two years ago,  a chorus of critics has sung his praises.  Boken is an extraordinarily rich novel  that extends and elaborates the ideas  of the stage play. In his Afterword, the  author speaks modestly of ‘a decade of  pondering on the Biblical texts’.

Rådström’s God does not rule from  on high, but is the Writer of the world  and, like all writers, wonders at the way  his creation tends to slip out of control.  He has grand visions, but is excitable,  fallible and aware of his faults. 

It is a wonderful idea that offers an  absurdly plausible explanation of the  grandeur and success of his creation  as well as of its endless plot snarl-ups  and occasional grievous errors. When  God eventually becomes involved as  the Protagonist of his own narrative, the  dramatic tension of this tale of divine  and human confrontations is heightened,  as is its inherent humour. 

Long before God’s participation in  his story, he had dispatched the three  Archangels to act as his representatives.  They stalk creation like magical  journalists, observing, interviewing and  taking notes of the activities of the  world’s prophets and rulers, but also  those of its powerless masses. Humanity  is embodied in the Man and the Woman  who are destined to wander, eternal,  rootless and unnamed, as asylum-seekers  among the multitudes. They were made  stateless once God for the first time lost  his grip on the storyline and threw them  out of Eden for having tasted the fruits of  the tree of knowledge. 

The Old Testament comes alive in a  fairly familiar sequence, but the timeline  of the New Testament stories has been  restructured. There are many examples  of famous passages rewritten in  Rådström’s high-toned but very readable  language, allusive, vivid and lyrical – it has  been called ‘enhanced’ – the memorable  stories of Job and of Jesus rescuing his  storm-driven apostles are just two of  them.

Of course, this is an enterprise beset  with problems and Rådström has not  solved them all. Boken– like its great  precursor – is a volume to dip into: it  can read enthrallingly well but, at other  times, the storytelling can be uneven and  moralistic. 

Outside Sweden, Niklas Rådström is  relatively unknown, despite the stunning  breadth of his writing and precise sense  of what makes language grip and entice  the reader. His imagination shifts between  deep seriousness and delighted play.  Like God’s, it would seem. In one setpiece, God walks out into his now wild  Garden to pick up a lifeless greenfinch.  Mysteriously, the tiny bird comes alive  again and God, feeling happier, goes  back to his writing. Rådström, author of  an elegant little volume about how he  rescued a baby bluetit, is not far away. 

Also by Niklas Rådström

Other reviews by Anna Paterson

Other reviews in SBR 2014:1

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